Reese Burdette’s biography starts with a quote from William Shakespeare: “And though she be but little, she is fierce.” The quote is perfectly chosen. On May 26th, 2014, Reese was badly injured in a house fire while visiting her grandparents in Clear Brook, VA. Reese’s grandmother, Patricia Stiles, woke to the smell of smoke and ran into Reese’s room which was where the fire originated. Reese’s sister and grandfather were able to escape without injury. Both Reese and her grandmother, who rescued Reese from her room, were taken by ambulance to Winchester Medical Center where they were later air lifted to other hospitals for burn care.
Reese was flown to Johns Hopkins Children’s Hospital in Baltimore, MD. Reese’s grandmother was flown to Washington Medical Burn Center in Washington, DC, where she stayed in ICU for 2 months. Reese suffered burns on 35% of her body; but, her biggest obstacle was lung damage from smoke inhalation. Reese went into cardiac arrest 7 days after the fire and was put on ECMO [a lung and heart support device], and was on ECMO for 10 weeks, a very long time for ECMO. After 10 weeks, it was known that Reese could not survive on ECMO any longer; and she was then put on VAD – a similar type device; but, one usually used for heart support. Reese only needed lung support by that time; but, her doctors adapted the VAD to suit her. The VAD machine pumped oxygenated blood through her heart directly to her lungs; and, this saved her life.
Reese was in an induced coma for over 4 months because of the ECMO and VAD assistance. During Reese’s first 3-4 months in ICU, she suffered cardiac arrest 4 times, internal bleeding, blood transfusions daily for months, a hole in her lung, and collapsed lungs so many times that, logically, she should not have pulled through; but, pull through she did. Her doctors feel she is a miracle child! Reese’s parents, Justin and Claire Burdette, never gave up hope for Reese. For 4 months, they never left Johns Hopkins. Many nights they slept in the ICU waiting room; and, other nights they resided at a nearby hotel, where they were to stay for almost 2 years. Justin and Claire are dairy farmers, a 24/7/365 job. Justin’s parents, who farm with them, were a tremendous help through this entire ordeal. Eventually, Justin and Claire were able to take shifts sitting with Reese by day so the other could be at home to run the farm, milk the cows, and take care of Reese’s prized cows: Pantene and Pretzel. Reese’s younger sister, Brinkley, would visit Reese weekly with her cousin, Regan. These were the only “young people” who were allowed to visit Reese on a regular basis in the ICU.
After 662 days in the PICU at Johns Hopkins, Reese was released to return home, to her family and farm. Her hometown of Mercersburg decorated the town with all things purple: from balloons to streamers to banners to homemade signs and flags. The Mercersburg Fire Department escorted the family home through streets lined with cheering fans and supporters of Reese and the family. Today, Reese continues her recovery in the comforts of her home. Reese also has to learn to cope with the loss of a leg due to ECMO and the poor circulation it caused in her early weeks at Johns Hopkins. Reese has a prosthetic leg she calls “Leggo,” and she has learned to cope well with this change. This little farm girl just wants to get back to normal; and, she is very close now that she is home. She has goals of showing her cows again and hopes to do that this fall.
The Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival’s® Firefighters’ Activities Department is extremely proud to present Reese Burdette as the Honorary Firefighters’ Marshal of the 2016 Firefighters’ Parade; and, to honor her wish to ride a firetruck in that parade. Please join us in saluting her exemplary display of courage and tenacity!